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B.C. researchers using lights brighter than the sun to curb hip implant failures

UBC-led team has discovered chemical particles corroding the body as it fights the new joint

Using light technology brighter than the sun, researchers at the University of British Columbia has brought science a step closer to reducing hip implant failures.

Every year, hip replacement surgery relieves pain for tens of thousands of Canadians. However, years later, a small number of people will suffer from an implant failure.

Professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering Rizhi Wang and his team collaborated with the Canadian Light-Source facility at the University of Saskatchewan — one of Canada’s largest — to identify the cause, chemical particles being created from the implant that corrode the body and tear on moving joints.

Wang’s team, recently published a study in the journal Materialia detailing the nature of the damaging particles and how they are produced. They analyzed failed implants and tissue samples using CLS bright light technology, which revealed chromium- and phosphate-rich amorphous particles in the tissues.

“The body is a very corrosive environment,” said Wang said in a media release. Wang references the movie Alien where the “blood” of the creature eats through the spacecraft. Human blood is not that aggressive, but when metal is in our body, our immune system will defend against that foreign material.

The team’s work has opened the door for more research into how cells react to the particles to cause the adverse local tissue reactions. The third stage will be to improve the design and material selection of implants to mitigate these side effects.

“We needed to solve question one in order to proceed to questions two and three,” Wang said.

Wang said his group has already connected with a surface engineering company in Richmond to develop a durable hard coating to basically seal the implant.

He believes it will be applicable to all mobile joints – hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders.

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